Horses and Thermoregulation, by Dr Clair Thunes

Posted on December 14, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, health, history, therapy.

winterhorses

Q.How do horses survive in the cold?
A. Horses are mammals and as such are warm-blooded just like humans and so when the air around them is colder than their body temperature, heat transfers from them to the environment and they get colder. To survive they must regulate this heat loss, however such heat loss is not always detrimental, for example if the horse is too hot and needs to cool down.  According to an article by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, “estimates for the lower critical temperature (LCT) for horses are between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit depending on hair coat, body condition, wetness and windchill”.  They go on to give the lower critical temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit based on hair coat as follows, wet or short hair 60, moderate length hair coat 50, heavy coat 30.  Once the average temperature reaches the LCT human intervention is required such as shelter, a blanket and or extra feed.

Q. Why should diet matter?
A. Once at the bottom of its comfort zone the horse reaches its critical temperature and the body speeds up chemical reactions within the body in order to burn more calories and to create more body heat. This requires an increase in dietary energy intake because if there are not enough calories in the diet to meet the additional needs for maintaining body temperature the horse will utilize its body energy reserves (fat).  If this deficit continues for too long then the body condition will be compromised and the horse will lose weight. Well-fed horses adapt better than those who are underfed.
Adaptation should be considered when contemplating a horse’s lower critical temperature.  A horse who has spent a good amount of time in Arizona where the average summer high is around 95 degrees Fahrenheit and average winter low is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit may hit its lower critical temperature at a relatively higher temperature than a horse who lives in Maine where the average summer high is only around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but the average winter low is around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. For the horse from Arizona the lower critical temperature may be 60 degrees even with thick haircoat. The age of the horse is also worth considering.  Older horses are generally less efficient at both digestion and thermoregulation and so are more susceptible to extremes in temperature.  They will therefore need a diet that is more easily digestible and may require intervention earlier than their younger counterparts to stay warm.  Young horses especially those under a year of age are also less able to handle cold weather in part due to the large amounts of energy that are being utilized for growth.  They should be provided with good shelter and ample access to good quality hay.

Q. Horses run around a lot when it’s cold. Does that help?
A. Exercise produces heat from energy burned by muscles so moving is another way the horse has to stay warm but the energy for movement has to come from somewhere, either the diet or body energy reserves.  This may be one reason why horses seem to run around more when the weather is cold.  Muscle contractions don’t just occur though as a result of the horse physically changing locations they also occur as a result of shivering.  The energy produced from these muscle activities raises the horse’s core temperature.
Also, like us, horses can make their hair stand-up, which is called piloerection (think of goose bumps), which acts to increase their hair depth and traps air next to their bodies creating an insulating layer.    It is because of this function that you might hear people say that well cared for horses are quite alright out in the cold as long as it is dry.  Once their coats get wet the hair is unable to stand up and create this insulating layer.  They then rely on the oils in their coat to prevent their skin from getting wet, which is why you should not bathe a horse that lives out in the winter or use a body brush which drags the oils through the coat, as they need the oils to stay near their skin to act as a protective barrier.  Horses living outside need to have access to adequate shelter such as a 3-sided shed as such shelter has been shown to reduce heat loss by 20% not only because it allows their hair to stay dry but it also reduces heat loss from wind chill. A blanket flattens the horse’s hair and prevents piloerection.  If in turn the blanket is not thick enough to adequately insulate or it leaks, the horse will be cold and will not be able to use piloerection to stay warm.  This is not to say that blankets should not be used. If you have a horse who does not carry much weight, with a thin hair coat or decide to clip your horse because it is in heavy work, a blanket will be necessary.

Q. What about stall protection?
A. Often the coldest part of the night is around 6am, as the sun comes up areas reached by sunlight warm up quickly compared to those areas still in shade such as the inside of stall, so horses in stalls are subjected to cold for far longer than those horses that can get out into the sun.  This can cause a real conundrum in spring and autumn when your stabled horses are blanketed at night and you need to take their blankets off early in the morning before you go to work because later in the day they will be hot.  In these instances you have to know your horse and know whether it is better for them as an individual to be too hot or too cold.  The hard keeper who is lean, gets cold and is stressed easily would probably be better left with the blanket on versus the horse carrying more condition who won’t be at any great detriment if he is a little chilly for a couple of hours.

In summary, horses do adapt to cold over time, according to Dr Cymbaluk of the ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Ontario Canada. However, horses typically require a 10-21 day adaptation period.  A horse’s ability to adapt depends on the duration of the cold weather and the horse’s energy intake.  A horse isn’t going to be able to adapt to a sudden winter storm and so will require more intervention.  Therefore, energy intake is more critical.  Your horse will tell you if he/she is cold, pay attention to the warning signs and make adjustments to hay intake and overall management as necessary to insure that your horse comes out of the winter in good condition.

Dr Clair Thunes, PhD Nutrition. 2005. University of California, DavisMS Animal Science. 1998. University of California, Davis, BSc. Hons. Animal Science. 1997. Edinburgh University. web: summit-equine.com

Minimalist Horse Training I

Posted on December 5, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, riding, therapy, training.
*Jentry rides her pony round the cones

*Jentry rides her pony round the cones

Minimalist training is exactly what it implies. When circumstances demand our absence from our horse for long periods of time, the moments we spend with him can be highly productive by minimizing and focusing what we try to accomplish with him. Training the horse takes place every time we touch our horse. The horse learns how we prefer him to behave. Minimalist training does not attempt to build muscle on our horse; only daily, vigorous forward riding can do that. But it can produce an obedient, trusting animal in only a minimal amount of time. Well structured, short sessions always produce ample results, and sets the tone for subsequent training sessions.

Whether you have been away from your horse one day or sixty days, it is always best to start an exercise session by either free- lunging your horse, or on the long line before doing anything. This gives you a chance to see how the horse is moving, specifically if he is favoring or limping on a leg or hoof. Even though you were away and and haven’t seen the horse, he could have twisted or stepped on something in his turnout, or paddock time. Once you determine he’s moving fine it’s time to exercise.

If you are able to ride once a week you can actually accomplish a lot with the use of  cones. With just two cones you can address bending, balance, and response time to cues.  Three cones is a luxury where you can set up a spacious triangle, or a straight line, and combine threading and circling to promote bending and re-bending. Cones provide a great short cut to helping your horse learn how to stay on the intended circle; not to change speeds on his own; and to bend both to the right and to the left. As he gets the hang of it at the walk then you can pick up a trot, taking care in keeping him balanced and adjusting his tendency to dip around turns.  Practicing halts, changes of stride from longer to shorter, using transitions between the walk and the trot, these changes keep your horse’s attention by keeping him focused on the work. Remember, you are not developing muscle so much as alertness to cues, and obedience to direction.  If you are able to move to canter work you will find endless options for practicing figure eights, flying changes, and even counter canter.

Ground poles can expand your cone lessons by changing the focus from turning and flexing exercises to lessons on lifting and carrying.  This helps activate your horse’s hind quarters, and subtly addresses ‘dragging toes’, a problem where the horse drags his back feet across the ground which causes stumbling. One of my favorite uses of ground poles is to lay down two parallel poles in three different places in the riding ring, placing a cone at the ends of each group of poles. Then I have the horse step over the center of one set of ground poles, bend right around the end cone, come back and step over the center of the poles again then turn left, (making a figure eight), and as we step back over the center of the ground poles once more then we move into either leg yield/shoulder-in/or half-pass toward the new set of poles where I can repeat my figure eight. None of these activities require extensive muscle strength, but they do address alertness, suppleness in bending, and stepping the hind legs under the horse’s barrel. Remember that minimalist training is for infrequent riding, focusing on building behavior, response, and trust. I have found it fully effective with horses ridden as little as three times a year! Muscle strength and stamina, however, can only be developed through a daily, vigorous riding program.
Next: Minimalist Training II  Scaling it down even further.

*photo from Jennifer Buxton; Braymere Custom Saddlery

Minimalist Horse Training II

Posted on December 4, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, health, riding, therapy.

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Many riders are fortunate to have an indoor riding facility to help continue their horse’s training through the long frozen months of winter. But many of us struggle to find ways to keep our horses in shape while enduring harsh weather. This means we have to minimize, or scale down the training activities with our horse.  I have discovered that during inactive winter months, changing my goals from muscle development to developing my horse’s obedience and co-operation, has a powerful impact on his behavior and addresses his trust/confidence issues. Minimizing my training this way confirms the simple fundamentals of attitude so that at the end of winter there is less resistance when returning to our strengthening exercises. How can that be?

We keep our horses mentally active by providing a learning atmosphere each time we’re together. For instance, have you ever noticed as you begin to groom, how your horse pushes his nose close to your hair and takes a long smell,or nudges your arm?  The way you respond to him reveals your emotional state. Many years ago my first horse taught me that when he would sniff my hair he was actually nudging me to determine: “How’s your attitude today?”  He knew immediately if I was impatient as I would quickly shove his head away. However, on days that I was cheerful then we’d play a little, and if I was in an academic mood then I would try to teach him a new ground trick. So by responding to the nudging, physical contact of my horse, I was recognizing his attempted ‘conversation’ with me. Every horse will do this, even if they come from abusive or rough backgrounds, because horses communicate with each other through physical contact. It is the pathway to his mind and shows how he learns and how he reacts in different situations. The time you spend grooming your horse, or hand walking him outdoors is the time to use to find special ways to reach out. Grooming is such an excellent way to discover your horse. Every horse is quick to reveal their good and bad ‘zones’.  Notice, as you groom, that he makes faces at spots that need extra scratching or rubbing. These are good ‘zones’.  Sensitive spots or bad zones, are the areas he doesn’t want touched. You can take the time to work with him until these areas can be gently massaged or brushed.

If  you can ride occasionally during the winter months, but have only a very small arena in which to work, you can minimize your activities to focus on objects or behaviors that typically frighten your horse. Is he always afraid of flags,balloons, loud noises? You can create a safe learning environment in which your horse can finally face his fears with your encouragement. Perhaps he is reluctant to walk over tarps, or bridges, or perhaps carrying a flag on the pole has always sent him running the other direction. Use the winter months to creatively tackle these problems at a slow, deliberate pace.  Encourage the horse’s obedience and acceptance of your direction. It shows him how to begin to trust your decisions and how to control his ‘flight’ instincts once he learns these things aren’t harmful. If he is determined to cling to his fears then be creative and start with walking over ground poles placed next to tarps, and hang flags on the wall that catch the breeze as you walk by.  Your goal is to eventually walk over the tarps and bridges, and to carry the flag, but only with his co-operation.  Once the two of you are working as a team and trust one another you will find most of these formidable objects become boring to him and you’ll need to find new challenges for him. In this way, your horse becomes happy about learning and meeting challenges, and he will be mentally ready for the trails once spring arrives.

*Photo from Valley View Ranch,Dallas,Tx

equi-works

equi-works